A tragic irony of modern life is that so many people feel isolated from each other by the very feelings they have in common, including a fear of failure and a sense of not being enough. This can sometimes manifest itself at work but it certainly features in all elements of our lives.
Brene Brown author of “Daring Greatly” – How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent and lead, shines a light on these dark recesses of emotion and reveals how these feelings can gnaw at fulfilment, but she also shows too how they can be transformed to help us live more wholehearted lives of courage, engagement and purpose.
She talks about vulnerability like this:” it is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; its engaging, its being all in.” She goes on to say that “vulnerability is not a weakness and the uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement”.
Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection. While being perfect and bulletproof are seductive, they don’t exist in the real world. Whatever the arena is that we must walk into – an important meeting, a presentation to the Board, a difficult conversation, a confession, we must walk into that arena with courage and willingness to engage – in other words, dare to show up and let ourselves be seen. This is vulnerability.
Vulnerability is about revealing what you deny or keep hidden from other people. We all do this to some extent. I bet you’ve never said to a friend, “I just love that I’m insecure”. It isn’t showing the shiny and fun part of us, but that’s the point, isn’t it? To love everything about yourself, if you want to be vulnerable by choice. Most of us have probably experienced vulnerability through default. More often than not, we are either forced into that state through conflict, or we are surprised by it after our circumstances feel more comfortable.
Few of us consciously choose vulnerability. Why? The stakes are too high.
If we reveal our authentic selves, there is a possibility that we will be misunderstood, labelled, or rejected. The fear of rejection can be so powerful that some wear it like armour. As kids we found ways to protect ourselves from vulnerability, from being hurt, diminished or disappointed. We put on armour- we used our thoughts, emotions and behaviours as weapons, learning how to make ourselves scarce or even disappear. Now as adults, we realise that to live with courage, purpose and connection, – to be the person whom we long to be – we must again be vulnerable. We must take off the armour, put down the weapons, show up and let ourselves be seen.
To choose vulnerability and fight those feelings of uncertainty, fear or exposure, the following conclusions may be meaningful:
- Vulnerability is so much easier when you love yourself – When you don’t love all of you and are afraid to show people the less than stellar parts, the space between you and vulnerability is like the Grand Canyon. You will need all the courage you can get to make the leap across. But when you love yourself (all of you) you don’t worry so much if someone else doesn’t. And when you’re less afraid of rejection, you step right into that place of openness.
- Vulnerability takes practice – You don’t just learn it once and then—ta-dah!—you’re easily open to everything and everyone. However life will continue to give us opportunities to consciously choose openness.
- The rewards of vulnerability are immeasurable – When I choose to be open, to show my authentic self, others will meet me there. With vulnerability, you experience true connection—true love for yourself—and you begin to attract people who are inspired by your openness – the complexity that is you.
With over 12 years of research Brene Brown found people who feel adequate and coined the term ”wholehearted’ for this feeling, a feeling of being enough. People who arrived at that emotional place shared two things in common. The first is a sense of worthiness — they engage in the world, with the world, from a place of worthiness. Second, they make choices every day in their life, choices that almost feel subversive in our culture. They are mindful about things like rest and play. They cultivate creativity, they practice self-compassion. They have an understanding of the importance of vulnerability and the perception of vulnerability as courage. They show up in their lives in a very open way that scares most of us.
Brene Brown also examines how we experience the emotion of shame and how shame relates to vulnerability? She talks about how if vulnerability is the willingness to show up and let ourselves be seen, shame can get in the way. How can we be authentically known when we are paralysed with fear about what people might see? Setting boundaries is a great example; it’s something that people don’t think about as vulnerability, but saying “no” and protecting our time—whether it’s family time, our creative time, our work-life balance need – whatever our self-care time is—that’s a huge act of vulnerability in a culture where productivity is so highly valued.
How will you embrace and engage with vulnerability?